This article was originally published in Boxing News’ 100 Greatest Fighters special
ERIK MORALES is a living legend. After a series of defeats he came back in 2010, which seemed unwise after the hard wars he had endured in his great career.
By the time his 2011 match with fearsome Argentine puncher, Marcos Maidana came round, the worst was feared. Early on his right eye swelled closed and yet the old master weathered the storm, his fabled skills giving the Argentine a rough ride.
Though Maidana escaped with the majority decision it was Morales who left with his legend enhanced.
He halted Pablo Cesar Cano to win a ‘world’ title at a fourth weight, light-welter. He may have lost twice to young Danny Garcia in 2012 but it was a far cry from the glory days of Morales’ own youth.
“El Terrible” announced himself at super-bantam, knocking out veteran Daniel Zaragoza to become WBC champion in 1997. But his page in boxing history, despite the visceral rivalry the two shared, will forever feature Marco Antonio Barrera. The two had their first classic confrontation in 2000, which for the record Morales won on a split decision. But there was never much between them as the two completed a true epic, Barrera taking the last two of their three fights on unanimous and majority verdicts.
It would not be the only trilogy Morales featured in. He beat Manny Pacquiao, in a unanimous decision when the two met in 2005.
Far ahead on points going into the last round Erik only needed to run from Pacquiao to win. Instead he showed his character. In the 12th he switched to Manny’s southpaw stance simply to slug it out with the “Pacman” providing an inexplicable yet thrilling conclusion to their fight.
It proved his machismo as much as the cast iron quality of his chin. It also served as a kind of vindication for Morales as Pacquaio had beaten Erik’s great rival, Barrera, inside the distance in 2003.
It was perhaps Morales’ last great performance. In his next outing “El Terrible” was shocked by Zahir Raheem. That didn’t derail the completion of his trilogy with Pacquaio but Manny’s fast, powerful fists laid him low in their last two fights.
In 2007 he fought David Diaz a competent lightweight champion but one that Morales, in his heyday, should have handled. Instead he lost unanimously and announced his retirement.
The hero, from rough Mexican border town Tijuana, returned three years later though it was unclear what more he had to prove. His body was fleshier than the glory days, he failed to make the weight before the first Garcia fight. His long face remained hard to read but he still had the canny boxing ability of old, the right hand that rarely errs and the knowledge of how to handle his foe in the ring. He retained that element at his core which made his fans love him so much, his deep-rooted appetite for a fight.
OUTSIDE THE ROPES
He may be one the world’s greatest boxers but there’s more to Morales than meets the eye. To give something back, during his retirement from the sport he began managing the $3.5 million budget of running the parks and recreation department in his hometown Tijuana. He donated his salary back to the department saying, “I have no need to hold a job but I truly enjoy what I’m doing.”